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Faith Leaders Protest Narrow Religious Exemption

Shawn Thew/Pool/Bloomberg/Getty Images

On December 21, 2011, some sixty leaders of faith-based organizations or who work with faith-based organizations wrote to President Obama and HHS Secretary Sebelius protesting the very narrow exemption to the health insurance contraceptives mandate and asking that the administration not adopt in its place a different definition that would still only protect some faith-based organizations. An alternative definition has been proposed that would still leave unprotected many faith-based service organizations.

The letter points out that the revised exemption, just as the current narrow exemption in the health insurance regulations, has two major flaws: (1) it would leave unprotected many faith-based organizations that object to the contraceptives mandate; and (2) it would write into federal law a definition of “religious employer” that wrongly encompasses only churches and church-controlled organizations. Many faith-based organizations do not fit that narrow definition, and yet their religious freedom, too, must be respected by the federal government.

Signatories of the letter include Protestant and orthodox Jewish leaders representing many religious colleges and universities, k-12 schools, grassroots faith-based organizations, denominations, law associations, rescue missions, and more.

This letter was circulated to and signed only by non-Catholic organizations and leaders. The media and some in Congress and in the administration believe that only Catholic organizations care deeply about the contraceptives mandate and the minimal exemption. This letter shows that the concern about the religious freedom implications of the health insurance contraceptive mandate is much broader. As the signers say, “We write not in opposition to Catholic leaders and organizations; rather, we write in solidarity, but separately—to stress that religious organizations and leaders of other faiths are also deeply troubled by and opposed to the mandate and the narrow exemption.

Many of these signers also signed an August letter to the administration protesting the contraceptives mandate and the narrow exemption. The new letter is intended to stress the signers’ opposition to the alternative exemption that has been proposed to the administration.